Hepworth and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1995-075
- J M Potter (Chair)
- W J Fraser
- R McLeod
- L M Loates
- Guy Hepworth
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
A practical joke in which an unattended ticking suitcase was left in a public place
featured in a segment of Just Kidding broadcast at 7.30pm on TV2 on 3 May 1995.
Just Kidding is a light-hearted show broadcast weekly which uses an international
selection of practical jokes.
Referring to the recent explosion in Oklahoma in the United States, Mr Hepworth
complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the item was inappropriate. He also
objected to the programme's practice of frightening people as a basis for humour.
Accepting that practical jokes did not appeal to everyone, TVNZ said that a
momentary loss of dignity was the basis of that style of humour. It maintained that
the skit complained about was almost the stereotype of a practical joke and declined
to uphold the complaint. Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, Mr Hepworth referred
the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the
Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons below the Authority declined to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read
the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its practice, the Authority
has determined the complaint without a formal hearing.
The actions of passers-by in dealing with an apparently abandoned ticking suitcase in
what was obviously a public place was the point of the humour in a skit included in
Just Kidding. Just Kidding is a light-hearted show which includes an international
selection of practical jokes.
Referring to the recent bomb blast in the United States, Mr Hepworth said the
abandoned suitcase item "was completely out of order". As Just Kidding relied on
scaring people, he argued that the programme should not be broadcast at all.
TVNZ assessed the complaint under standard G2 of the Television Code of
Broadcasting Practice which requires broadcasters:
G2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste
in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any
language or behaviour occurs.
Stressing the importance of humour in society, TVNZ stated that practical jokes had
a long history as a form of humour and relied on the victim (in this case a passer-by)
suffering a momentary loss of dignity and composure to the amusement of viewers.
As for the specific item, TVNZ described it as almost stereotypical and argued that, in
the context of a programme of practical jokes, it had not breached the standard.
When he referred his complaint to the Authority, Mr Hepworth disputed TVNZ's
reasoning and pointed to the current practice of detonating abandoned suitcases.
Accordingly, he wrote, not only was the item in bad taste, it was also irresponsible.
While the Authority felt some concern about the particular item's style of humour,
the context, it noted, was a collection of internationally sourced and locally produced
practical jokes, where viewers were expecting the type of humour which involved
laughing at each victim's momentary embarrassment or fear. In that context, the
Authority accepted TVNZ's point that the specific item was almost stereotypical of
the practical joke genre. Accordingly, giving emphasis to the context in which the skit
was screened, the Authority decided that standard G2 had not been contravened.
For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
31 July 1995
Mr Hepworth's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 4 May 1995
Mr Guy Hepworth of Wellington complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about
an item broadcast on Just Kidding on TV2 between 7.30 - 8.30pm on 3 May.
Mr Hepworth said that the item which featured an "exploding" suitcase "was
completely out of order" at any time but especially given the deaths caused by a
recent bomb in the United States. One passer-by, he noted in amazement, was seen to
lift and shake the suitcase.
Acknowledging that the item could well have come from overseas, Mr Hepworth said
that nevertheless TVNZ had to take responsibility. Because the programme seemed
to rely on scaring people - especially of an older age group - Mr Hepworth suggested
that the programme should be taken off the air.
TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 16 May 1995
Reporting that Just Kidding was a weekly compilation of practical jokes, TVNZ
advised Mr Hepworth that his complaint had been assessed under standard G2 of the
Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
TVNZ argued that although practical jokes were not enjoyed by all, they had a long
history as a form of humour and added:
The essence of the practical joke is that the "victim" (in this case the passer-by)
suffers a momentary loss of dignity and composure to the amusement of those
who are in on the joke - the viewing audience.
TVNZ is very wary of circumscribing the limits of humour because we recognise
that the ability to laugh at ourselves is a very precious attribute not to be
tampered with lightly.
Describing the ticking suitcase as almost a stereotypical practical joke, TVNZ stated
that should Mr Hepworth's concern have been recognised by deleting the item, then
the terrorists responsible for the recent bomb in Okalahoma would have scored
Declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ wrote:
While TVNZ is sorry that you were offended by this item, it does not believe
that it strayed beyond the bounds of "currently accepted norms of taste and
decency", especially in the specific context of a skit contained in a programme
comprised entirely of practical jokes. It would, we suggest, be within the
expectations of the viewing audience.
Mr Hepworth's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 18 May
Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, Mr Hepworth referred his complaint to the
Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
In view of the points, one, that at least one fatality in New Zealand had been caused
by an abandoned suitcase, two, the Okalahoma explosion, and three, the practice of
detonating abandoned suitcases, Mr Hepworth maintained that the Just Kidding
practical joke was not only in extremely bad taste but also irresponsible.
Mr Hepworth described TVNZ's response as a "complete load of rubbish" and,
observing that the suitcase was not labelled "Bomb" or "TNT", he said that if it had
been a real bomb, the "victims" would have suffered more than "a momentary loss of
dignity". The whole programme, he concluded, lacked merit.
TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 16 May 1995
In its report to the Authority, TVNZ argued that terrorism should not have a lasting
impact on our ability to laugh at ourselves. In view of Mr Hepworth's distaste for
the entire programme, TVNZ suggested that he was expressing a matter of personal
preference for which the complaint process was inapplicable.
Mr Hepworth's Final Comment - 1 June 1995
In his response, Mr Hepworth pointed out that although he disliked the programme
because it was based on either scaring or assaulting people, he was complaining about
the poor taste of one skit. He wrote:
May I point out that abandoned suitcases have long ago lost their appeal as
humour in London in particular and in England in general and that in New
Zealand on several occasions apparently abandoned brief cases have been
exploded intentionally by the bomb squad in case they were malicious and one
union official was killed by an abandoned suitcase.
Mr Hepworth referred to his experience in diplomatic security and strongly disagreed
that his complaint was a matter of personal preference. Enclosing two letters from the
"TV Guide" which agreed with him about Just Kidding, he concluded:
Sir, I have a sense of humour and frankly am well known for it. In my life time I
have been a stand up comic, I have lectured extensively using humour to get my
message across and have been in some demand due to this as an after dinner
speaker so Mr Edmunds condescending remark where he "respects my views
plus his endorsement of my rights" is in my opinion downright rude but that is